Week 8 takes us to the halfway point in the fantasy football season. Thus far the Rams, Steelers, and Chiefs have been the most fertile grounds for fantasy points. While the Bills, Cardinals, and 49ers have proven themselves too volatile to trust. I do not fault these 3 teams, as injuries and rookie errors have ravaged their offensive huddles. As the playoff bracket ebbs and flows out of focus, it’s time to start thinking about what to do as the fantasy playoffs draw nearer. The Rams, at 7-0, will likely rest their players down the stretch, unless the 3-3 Seahawks catch fire. The Patriots should once more cruise to an AFC East title, unless Brocktoberfest continues into November. With this in mind, I’ve tried to mix as many sleepers as possible into this week’s coverage. As well as addressing some of the key injuries and position battles that will shape the second half of the fantasy season.
New York Jets at Chicago Bears
Key Players: Isaiah Crowell, Trey Burton, Tarik Cohen
Bilal Powell will be shut down for the year, finally adding some clarity to the Jets’ fantasy prospects. Isaiah Crowell will now be the feature back for the Jet offense barring something completely unforeseen (he said, just before a back he never heard of burst onto the scene . . .). Thus far, Sam Darnold has played on the level one would expect from a rookie quarterback. He’s had some great moments and some “what was he thinking?” moments. Please don’t think I’m knocking him for the latter, it just means the Jet passing game is too volatile to safely project week to week. This problem had infected the running game too (as NFL teams do not run when they have to score quickly), but now with Powell out, we can assume Crowell will get 15-25 carries for the rest of the season. Even if the other team loads the box, he only needs to break one or two long ones to increase his fantasy value. It also helps Crowell owners to know he will continue to get the red zone carries now that the more bullish Powell is out.
The Bears are so agonizingly close to having a great offense, it must be driving their fans crazy. Last week they did a great job hanging with the Patriots even though Mitch Trubisky struggled with his accuracy. I was able to watch most of the game and the two players who popped up most in my notes were Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen. Burton ended the day with 9 receptions for 126 yards and 1 touchdown. He has now scored a touchdown in 4 of his last 5 games. Facing an aggressive Jet defense, I expect he will put up good numbers this week as it will be his job to find holes in the middle of the field, providing Trubiksy with a lifeline. As for Cohen, he is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy players. Against the Patriots, he posted 6 carries for 14 yards with 8 receptions for 69 yards and 1 touchdown. That makes 3 games in a row where he has scored a touchdown.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals
Key Players: Mike Evans, O.J. Howard, DeSean Jackson, Joe Mixon, A.J. Green
Kansas City showed just how much the Bengals struggle against speed in Week 7, don’t think for a second the Bucs were paying close attention. Look for them to unleash their ridiculous receiving corp early and often this week. Mike Eveas had 7 receptions for 107 yards last week against a much faster Browns’ defense. DeSean Jackson only had 25 receiving yards on 2 receptions, but he also scored on a jet-sweep. Look for that same play to be run over and over against the Bengals this week. As he stretches them laterally, Evans can stretch them vertically. Even if the Bengals are somehow able to keep up with them, O.J. Howard will kill them by finding the holes created by Jackson and Evans. Unless the Bengals somehow got faster in practice this week, look for a huge game from these three Bucs.
Since the defense is so slow, look for Jo Mixon to try and keep them off the field. Against the Chiefs, he only managed to gain 50 yards on 13 carries. Nick Chubb found a fair amount of holes against the Bucs, so I have faith Mixon can run on them. Even if he can’t, he still plays enough in the passing game to assume he’s a good start this week, even if they get in another shoot-out. The other Bengal to start is A.J. Green. In Week 7 he posted 117 yards on 7 receptions. I expect a big game from him either on RPO’s if they are winning or deep throws if they are getting torched on defense.
Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions
Key Players: TBD Seahawks, Kerryon Johnson, Michael Roberts
Against the Raiders, the Seahawks showed remarkable balance in both the passing and running games. Russell Wilson completed passes to 8 different receivers, while Chris Carson had 14 carries, Rashaad Penny had 9, and Mike Davis 6. It remains to be seen if this is a trend they will carry forward or if the Raiders are really just that bad. This makes the Seahawks a key team to watch, not a group of players worth starting this week.
Last week, like an idiot, I left Kerryon Johnson on the bench. It pained me to watch him rush for 158 yards on 19 carries. LeGarrette Blount still scares me as a touchdown vulture, even though he hasn’t done much else in 2018. I still plan on keeping Johnson in the line-up as he has brought a consistency to the Detroit backfield they have not seen in a very long time. The interesting part of the Lions’ game last week, was the potential emergence of a sleeper. Detroit has not seen a lot of production from their tight ends in 2018, so Michael Roberts’ 3 receptions for 48 yards and 2 touchdowns performance literally came out of nowhere. Will he be able to keep it up? That remains to be seen. He certainly is a player to watch though.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Key Players: Phillip Lyndsey, Royce Freeman, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill
We have made it far enough into the 2018 season to start seeing some repeat match-ups. First up, Denver and Kansas City. The Chief offense has somehow progressed since they last played the Broncos, something many people would have never guessed after they entered the first game with an insane offensive attack. Yet, here we are with a somehow even better Chief offense. The Broncos have shown over their inconsistent start that while the can hang in most games, they are only at their best when they are running the ball. Last week Phillip Lindsay had 14 carries for 90 yards and 1 touchdown, while Royce Freeman added 13 carries for 37 yards and 1 touchdown. If they are going to have any chance against the Chiefs, these two need to control the clock. Not only is the Chief passing game vastly superior, the Bronco run defense has struggled mightily in 2018. This leaves them in an impossible situation on defense. The only solution is to keep the defense off the field. Look for them to unleash Lindsay and Freeman as much as possible. If you own one of these guys, be sure to play them.
In Week 7, the Chiefs embarrassed the Bengals. Both teams were coming off of tough losses and had something to prove, only one played like it though. The Chiefs enter Week 8 with a deadly passing game, along with one of the best running backs in football. Against the Bengals, Kareem Hunt had 15 carries for 86 yards and 1 touchdown, plus 5 receptions for 55 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those of us lucky enough to grab him in the draft this year would do well to keep him in there. His ability to run, catch, and score from anywhere make him an invaluable commodity. Tyreek Hill has rebounded from a small slump (fantasy wise) in the early weeks of the season. He followed up his 3 touchdown performance against the Patriots with 7 receptions for 68 yards and 1 touchdown against the Bengals. Even though the Broncos have a good pass defense, I expect big numbers from him this week. The best way to neutralize a good pass rush is through jet sweeps and screens, then building double moves off the same action. This, of course, is what sets Hill aside from many other top receivers. In their last meeting, Travis Kelce found all the holes in Bronco coverage to the tune of 7 receptions for 78 yards and 1 touchdown. With all the attention they’ll be paying to Hunt and Hill, I expect more of the same from Kelce in Week 8.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Key Players: Nick Chubb, David Njoku, James Conner, Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster
The Browns are starting to be the Browns again. Hue Jackson can feel his seat getting hotter and has done a very Hue Jackson thing by shifting the blame onto Todd Haley. I’m not saying Haley doesn’t deserve part of the blame, he does, the problem is in-fighting is not going to fix the problems on offense. What would fix the Browns offense is giving the ball to Nick Chubb a bit more. Against the Bucs in Week 7, he finished with 18 carries for 80 yards and 1 touchdown. If you look at the highlights, you can see how impressive that was given all of the negative gains in the first half. His patience coming to the line and ability to bounce and cut as soon as a hole opens reminds me a lot of Le’Veon Bell. Unless John Dorsey has a trade up his sleeve for a wide receiver, the Browns must rely on Chubb for the rest of 2018. When they do have to air it out, look for David Njoku to continue building off of his recent success. Against the Bucs last week, he had 4 receptions for 52 yards and 1 very impressive red zone touchdown. I expect to see him isolated in the red zone more often, as he is the only marginally experienced pass catcher they have with any size. Also look for more 2 tight end sets with Njoku in motion and Darren Fells on the line. Fells is the better blocker and the Browns seriously need Njoku’s size and speed on the outside.
No one has any idea what’s going on with Le’Veon Bell, leaving James Conner in the starting role coming out of their bye week. At this point, I would even be surprised if Bell’s return pushes Conner out of the starting role. He has exceeded all expectations and I really find it hard to believe Bell will return in top form. In Week 1, he shredded the Browns while also setting up the RPO throws to Juju Smith-Schuster that the Browns were powerless to stop. Since Greg Williams continues to blitz and blitz and blitz, expect the same attack in Week 8. Both Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown are must plays because of their ability in the short passing game.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Key Players: Adrian Peterson, Saquon Barkley
Ah, yes, my favorite part of these articles, the games where I have little to say . . .
The Redskins and the Giants are a strange case. They are two teams who are very similar, from a fantasy perspective, for wildly different reasons. Both have only one true fantasy player, each their primary running back. The Redskins are in this situation because their quarterback is notoriously cautious, while the Giants are in this situation because their quarterback is concerned for his life any time he drops back to pass.
Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers
Key Players: John Brown, Christian McCaffrey
Ironically enough, here’s the second game where I have little to say:
Like the Redskins and Giants, the Ravens and Panthers have only had one consistent fantasy player all season. John Brown’s speed is a good fit for Joe Flacco’s powerful, though always inconsistent arm. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey’s impact on the running and passing games render him the only real option in Carolina. Especially since Cam Newton still turns the ball over too much and the receiving corp is very deep, with parody reigning supreme.
Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Rams
Key Players: Davante Adams, Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods
I will admit, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the Packers this week. My hope is that the bye week gave Aaron Rodgers’ knee some much needed time to recover. With the division so close, I can understand why they never gave him to rest. This week will be a great test for the rest of the season. I also hope the Packers spent the bye week studying ways to integrate Aaron Jones into their offense a bit more. While it has never been their style, they really need to run the ball more. If they do not, instead choosing to do as they always have, then you can expect Davante Adams to continue putting up huge numbers in Week 8, considering this game will likely turn into an exciting shoot-out.
On the flip-side, I have a very good idea what to expect from the Rams: points. Points in the game and fantasy points on your scoreboard. Last week, Todd Gurley posted 15 carries for 63 yards and 2 touchdowns, to go with 4 receptions for 23 yards and 1 touchdown. Since he’s been on a roll all season, it doesn’t seem like to stop any time soon. Certainly there is no reason to imagine it will stop against the Packers run defense this weekend. With Cooper Kupp doubtful this week, it’s a good idea to start Robert Woods again in Week 8. Last week he lead the team in targets with 7 (a bigger number when you consider the evisceration taking place on the field), catching 5 for 78 yards. While the Packer offense may be in flux, they are still better than the 49er offense by a wide margin. You can assume Woods and Co. will see more passes this week in a closer game.
Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders
Key Players: Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton, Whoever Survives the Raider Fire-sale
A couple weeks after dismissing him, here I am to apologize to Marlon Mack. In Week 7, he exploded for 126 yards and 1 touchdown on 19 carries, while adding 2 receptions for 33 yards and 1 touchdown. Having watched every play of the Browns/Raiders game a few weeks ago, I am confident he can build on this in Week 8. This, of course, is assuming he’s able to stay healthy, which, as you may recall, was why I had dismissed him before. In the passing game, T.Y. Hilton finally returned to the field with 4 receptions for only 25 yard, but scored 2 touchdowns. If you have other receivers, maybe plan on starting them this week. It’s probably for the best to wait and see if Hilton is healthy. However, if you do not have the luxury of waiting, then by all means, get him back in your line-up.
At this point, I think it’s clear the Raiders are going to try and lose out to get the best possible draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Amari Cooper is gone, Marshawn Lynch is out for the season, and the team will soon be the Las Vegas Raiders. Since Jon Gruden is on a 10 year contract, we can assume he won’t be going anywhere and can afford to tank this season.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Key Players: Nope
And, finally, my third game where there is little to say. Both teams have players who are capable of posting great fantasy numbers. The problem is, neither offense is consistent enough to warrant any faith in those players.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Key Players: Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Adam Thielen, Latavius Murray
Anyone panicking over Alvin Kamara’s performance in Week 5 after Mark Ingram return from suspension can breathe a sigh of relief. In Week 7, Kamara ended up with 64 yards on 17 carries and 1 touchdown. The Ravens have one of the better defenses in the NFL, so these numbers are much better than they make look on paper. Sean Payton is one of the NFL’s best offensive minds, so I’m sure this week we will see the 2017 version of the Ingram/Kamara backfield. While their carries may not be split down the middle, each will return to their familiar role. Ingram will clean up in the red zone and Kamara will move around the formation, threatening to score from anywhere. Michael Thomas had a strong game with 7 receptions for 69 yards and 1 touchdown. Earlier in the season, I thought he would break Marvin Harrison’s single season record for receptions. He has not maintained that pace, to be sure. Still, last week was a good reminder of the numbers he can put up. They may not be record-breaking, they are better than most receivers.
One receiver who still might break Harrison’s record is Adam Theilen. Last week he continued his ridiculous start with 9 receptions for 110 yards and 1 touchdown. So far in 2018, he has gone over 100 receiving yards in every game. Even his 9 receptions were somehow less than he’s had most weeks. If you drafted Theilen, kudos to you, as I would be lying if I said I would have at the start of the season. I thought for sure the Vikings would keep the ball on the ground and Kirk Cousins would look for Stefon Diggs whenever he went to the air. Diggs is having a very strong season too, just nothing on the level of Theilen. Look for this to continue against the Saints. In the running game, Dalvin Cook is now expected to miss this week after it looked like he might be back last week. Latavius Murray continued his new found success on the ground with 15 carries for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Jets. The Vikings don’t want to get into a shoot-out with the Saints, look for them to try to get Murray going early this week.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Key Players: James White, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, No Bills
Remember back when the Patriot Dynasty was coming to an end? Ha. What a bunch of jabronis. Now that Julian Edelman has returned and Tom Brady got a fancy new Josh Gordon to throw to, the Patriot offense is back to being the Patriot offense. Through some miracle, Sony Michel didn’t tear anything in his knee. He won’t play this week and, knowing the caution afforded by a dud of a division, there’s a good chance he won’t play much down the stretch. As always, the Patriots are not playing to win the division, they are playing to win the Super Bowl. There is no way they rush him back. For now, that’s great news for James White owners. With Michel out, he’ll have to run the ball a bit more, adding to already solid value as a pass catcher. Against the Bears in Week 7, he posted 11 carries for 40 yards to go with his usual 8 receptions for 57 yards and 2 touchdowns. Since the Bills have virtually no chance hanging with the Patriots, we should get a good look at what he can do on the ground or if another back is going to get Michel’s carries. Regardless of whether he carries the ball or not, White is great start both this week and in the weeks to come. In the Patriot passing game, Josh Gordon had his first 100 yard game in a Patriot uniform last week, gaining exactly 100 yards on 4 receptions. You can see how much more comfortable he’s becoming each week and that’s great news for fantasy owners who stuck it out with him on their roster. Julian Edelman had only 36 yards on 5 receptions, but did snag 1 touchdown. The more Gordon sees the ball downfield, the more room open for Edelman. While he may not post the numbers we’re accustomed to, he’s still a valuable fantasy option.
As for the Bills, well, there are things I could say. None of them are positive. I’ll just wrap it up by saying to all Bills fans, I’m so sorry this is how they followed up their first playoff appearance in almost 20 years with this kind of season.
Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars
Key Players: Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, Dallas Goedert, Pass on Jacksonville
I’m still not entirely sure what happened to the Eagles against the Panthers in Week 7. One minute they were cruising to victory, the next Ron Rivera was covered in Gatorade. The Eagles will look to rebound in Week 8 against a suddenly reeling Jaguars team fresh off an embarrassing loss in Week 7. Look for the Eagles to go to the air early and often. If they are able to build a big lead, the odds of Jacksonville mounting a comeback similar to the Panthers are decidedly not high. Against the Panthers, Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffrey continued their post-Carson Wentz returning hot-streaks. Ertz had 9 receptions for 138 yards, while Jeffrey totaled 7 receptions for 88 yards and 1 touchdown. Look for more of the same this week. Dallas Goedert popped up once again as a possible sleeper. He had 4 receptions for 43 yards and 1 touchdown. With Ertz and Jeffrey getting all the attention, there’s a good chance Goedert is able to duplicate his success in Week 8. Then again, there’s also a chance he disappears again. Keep an eye on him.
Jacksonville is decidedly not hitting their stride. Last week things got so bad, they had to bench Blake Bortles for my old friend Cody Kessler. Needless to say, they are not inspiring a lot of confidence right now. The only player to watch is new arrival Carlos Hyde. In theory, his power running style will fit their team well. Said theory, however, is very much dependent on consistency from the quarterbacks.